A shrub savannah landscape in Niger was optically characterized utilizing blue, green, red and near-infrared wavelengths. Selected vegetation indices were evaluated for their performance and sensitivity to describe the complex Sahelian soil/vegetation canopies. Bidirectional reflectance factors (BRF) of plants and soils were measured at several view angles, and used as input to various vegetation indices. Both soil and vegetation targets had strong anisotropic reflectance properties, rendering all vegetation index (6) responses to be a direct function of sun and view geometry. Soil background influences were shown to alter the response of most vegetation indices. N-space greenness had the smallest dynamic range in VI response, but the n-space brightness index provided additional useful information. The global environmental monitoring index (GEMI) showed a large 6 dynamic range for bare soils, which was undesirable for a vegetation index. The view angle response of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), atmosphere resistant vegetation index (ARVI) and soil atmosphere resistant vegetation index (SARVI) were asymmetric about nadir for multiple view angles, and were, except for the SARVI, altered seriously by soil moisture and/or soil brightness effects. The soil adjusted vegetation index (SAVI) was least affected by surface soil moisture and was symmetric about nadir for grass vegetation covers. Overall the SAVI, SARVI and the n-space vegetation index performed best under all adverse conditions and were recommended to monitor vegetation growth in the sparsely vegetated Sahelian zone.